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An Open Letter to the National Media that is Clueless About Columbus

 Dan Longerbone An Open Letter to the National Media that is Clueless About ColumbusPhoto by Walker Evans.
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Dear National Media,

Recently it has come to your attention that Columbus, Georgia was in the running for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. No wait, not that Columbus, the one in South Carolina. Oh, that’s Columbia? Must be that one in Ohio then.

Yes, Columbus, Ohio. You know, the state capital. OK, Columbia is a capital too but let’s stay focused. Your reaction to the announcement was predictable even though it stings a bit more each time. Among the best:

Since August 1, Democrat Wire, a Twitter account that’s essentially a DNC newsfeed, has six mentions of Philadelphia being a favorite to win. Columbus also has six mentions…regarding the fact there was a site visit. And one that the ‘Shoe might be a bad idea.

Democratic Convention Watch pays no mention to the site visit here. Even Birmingham got a bone from these guys!

Finally, The Wire gave us its pros and cons for each of the five finalists. Four were rather well reasoned paragraphs; guess who earned a one sentence quip?

“Quick, name something distinctive about Columbus.”

We don’t have anything distinctive like the Empire State Building or Independence Hall. No Gateway Arch, no Sears Tower (sorry, Willis Tower), a serious lack of beach and certainly no mountains. It’s easy to understand that someone who’s never been here might be at a loss to picture the place; rust belt, corn, something something football. That’s because people who come here aren’t after photographic memories and never have been. No, a lot of people who visit end up staying here because of quite another type of memory. You see, Columbus is a place that needs to be experienced, to be felt. Shiny pictures of our waterfront and skyline (which always seem to be from terrible angles, btw) hide what lurks inside.

Ahhh, what indeed lurks inside the largest single city in Ohio? A city that made up the combined population losses of the next 10 largest cities by itself. With 20,000 people to spare. In the last four years here are some of the things we’ve been called (in addition to “Where?”):

These successes have been accomplished during the tenure of a four-term Democratic Mayor, with a Democratic City Council, and a Democratic Board of County Commissioners.

This is a place that other cities across the country look up to and have done so for over a century. The public-private partnership is such that the rather conservative editorial page of our daily paper backed an income tax increase on people working in the city; that half-percent increase was approved by voters during the recent economic downturn.

Yet, there’s more to Columbus than shiny baubles sold at a tourist stand or grandiose accolades from internet “best of” lists. Once you come here and really get into the scruff of the city, you’ll find a sense of belonging. You’ll find yourself saying “That’s the best…” a lot. And you’ll find we don’t have a lack of culture or identity; quite the opposite, ours is just like yours, no matter who you are. You just don’t know it yet because we aren’t a flashy folk.

Alas, no one takes us seriously and I’m fine with that. I love the idea I’m surrounded by over a million “municipal corporation” hipsters that knew and loved this place before it was cool. So please, dear media, do me a favor. If we do get this convention and you’re scrambling to find something to write about us, I sincerely hope you run across this post. I hope it spurs you to take an extended visit and see the place for yourselves, and I hope that changes (see what I did there?) your perception of the biggest small town in America. And if you do, I trust the next time someone says “Quick, name something distinctive about Columbus” you’ll have a treasure of memories at the tip of your tongue.

For ongoing discussion about the DNC in Columbus, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

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  • CB_downtowner

    It’s one thing to give Columbus less attention. What’s more irritating is laziness. There have been several articles questioning what Columbus brings to the table. It takes one google search to figure the answer out and there is plenty of material. If you want to lay out facts and figures and make that argument against Columbus, let’s have that conversation. If they’re going to be lazy and not do their homework, then they shouldn’t write anything at all.

  • CindyR

    Best City to live in…..period. If they can’t be bothered finding out about us, I don’t want them here! :)

  • Electricmage

    Sorry, but Columbus is not the 3rd most fashion forward city in the US. That article is basing it’s merits on the number of jobs in fashion. L brands, Abercrombie and Fitch and etc; these companies are not fashion forward and in fact, pale in comparison to companies Like Zara and Uni Qlo who are making waves internationally in the fashion community and sales of course. Notice how none are here? Chicago would be ranked 3 in fashion forward-ness.

    Stope selling lies. Columbus is a great town, but we’re not known for setting trends. Oh, and cmh fashion week is hilariously awful.

    Know how I know this? I lived in NYC for a decade.

    • DouginCMH

      You do understand that the fashion listing isn’t something that was made up on CU. It comes from this site:


      Of course, these best of sites are a dime a dozen. They’re not necessarily steeped in empirical evidence. Still, they get attention, people read them. And, undeniably, Columbus is showing up on more and more of them (top ten emerging beer city is a personal favorite: http://blog.seattlepi.com/thepourfool/2014/07/20/2497/). Frankly, it should. Columbus is a wonderful, vibrant, creative city. It also manages to be full of terrific and intersting people.

    • Circle8ght

      nyc as a credential for anything being “lesser than” should be terribly embarrassing for anyone invoking it.

    • Comet500

      Thank you, Electricmage!

      My head explodes every time I read Columbus is “fashion-forward”. It is not. Saying that makes us look like absolute fools.

    • fashionforward

      The phrase “Haters gonna hate!” comes to mind when I read your bashing post, ElectricMage (your handle makes me think of a locally created board game that’s a knock off of Magic The Game).

      Not only do you bash a well known fashion retail company (LBrands) that helped shape the city of Columbus and that also gives back to the community in more ways than just dollars, you bash a non-profit organization (CMH Fashion Week) whose board works tirelessly all year long to create an experience that showcases the amazing local fashion designers while also giving scholarships to fashion design students. I’ve attended CMH Fashion Week’s Finale Runway Shows with NY Fashion Week patrons, and they LOVED IT! I don’t know of another Fashion Week that does what CMH Fashion Week does…Fashion with heart! SHAME ON YOU!

      Columbus is not the #3 fashion forward city in the nation…I agree. However, we are #3 in the nation for fashion designers (NYC, LA, Columbus). THAT says a lot about Columbus and the potential it has in the fashion world. Organizations, Companies, and schools like CMH Fashion Week, Alternative Fashion Week, Highball, LBrands, A&F, Express, CCAD, and many more… all do their part in creating a fashion scene in Columbus while also helping Columbus gain national recognition in the fashion world.

      I’ve witnessed CMH Fashion Week designers move on to create their own lines and get picked up by not only local boutiques but boutiques across the nation.

      Some have even gone on to grab national recognition with fashion design contests with Pepsi Cola and Brad Smith (http://designforbradsmith.com/ … see the girl on the front page..that’s CMH Fashion Week 2013’s featured designer. She won the national contest and got to meet many influential fashion figures in NYC at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week).

      Genoveva Christoff (CMH Fashion Week 2012/2013 Featured Designer) was one of few in the nation to be chosen to be part of Pepsi Cola’s Fashion Contest for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in NY:

      CMH Fashion Week also brings in fashion designers like Nary Manivong:


      Project Runway Finalist, Althea Harper:

      Circle8ght’s comment was exactly on point: “nyc as a credential for anything being “lesser than” should be terribly embarrassing for anyone invoking it.”

      ElectricMage, since you’ve lived in NYC for over a decade, you won’t be too offended when I give you a friendly NYC “Go f*ck yourself!”

      • fashionforward

        The Videos did not embed in my post above. See below. This is how fashionable Columbus is!

        Genoveva Christoff

        Nary Manivong

        Althea Harper

        Kassie Haji

      • Comet500

        There is no such thing as a NYC “Go f*ck yourself”. The people there are extremely civil and nice. Let’s keep it classy, Columbus.

        That being said, that all sounds great about CMH fashion week. I’ll have to check it out. My opinion is based on the look of the general populous (not good) and the mundane clothes the companies based here pump out. We do kick butt in other ways like our craft beer culture, friendliness, ice cream, LGBT community, safety, affordable housing, employment rate I think, etc … Columbus is a little gem.

        The DNC should absolutely be here! I’m ready to sign up as a volunteer. Ohio is a powerful political mecca because our votes matter so much. I was never even campaigned to before moving to Columbus. Ever. (Chicago/NYC/San Francisco.)

        Franklin County played a huge role in electing Obama this past go around. 75% for him which is the same percentage of support he received from his hometown Chicago. I’m proud of that.

  • Anonime

    Columbus is a nice city and definitely better than some. But I have a question to the ones that are strongly and passionately arguing about its greatness: Have you ever lived outside of Columbus or visited other cities long enough to ‘feel’ their essence? Have you ever gone outside the United States (staying at an all-inclusive resort doesn’t count)? I’m sorry, but while I love Columbus and it is my home, I recognize that Columbus has a lot of development to still go through. It’s getting there– but it hasn’t arrived yet. I am very happy and pleased however, that the last five years have brought about extremely positive changes in terms of cultural awareness and openness. Again– Columbus still have some work to do but we are at least heading in the right direction.

    And in my opinion, at this point in time, there is nothing quite that remarkable about Columbus. But it will be someday.

    • This was a well written open letter. Good job!

      I agree with all the above comments. I moved here from out of town (from Michigan, 2 years in St. Louis, then here), and while it will never be as big or fancy as New York, Chicago, Toronto, etc., it’s a very nice city. It’s grown on me over the years and we’ve become a lot better in the last 10 years or so. The people on the coasts are just showing their ignorance and their own style of closed minded provincialism when they ignore the great cities in the Midwest and can’t even be bothered to do some google searching. Their lack of knowledge of anything outside their own little area and their laziness in looking things up is kind of sad in a way. Columbus, is a city of almost 2 million in the metro area, is pretty progressive, has a lot of great stuff and is growing. But, given that, I also agree with Anonime that while it’s a very nice city, we’ve got a long way to go. It’d be great to be remarkable, but most people and most cities aren’t. But, the way to become remarkable is to keep growing, getting better and practicing and taking some chances. I think some things that would help would be to:

      – have some kind of light rail (just seems more big city like to potential new residents);

      – less fanatic OSU boosterism (someone with out of town license plates told me their car was keyed. Not good);

      – more emphasis on science, technology and entrepreneurialism;

      – I wish some of our local developers would build some tall buildings instead of the 6 story, square brick ones that seem to dominate. How about a high-rise apt. building that’s not just expensive condos.

      – The suburbanites, like me, need to venture downtown sometime to see that it’s not bad.

      Anyways, it’s a great city and important politically, but let’s keep ggetting better. Thanks.

    • CB_downtowner

      I think it’s more a reaction to media outlets who rip on Columbus and have no frame of reference whatsoever. I don’t think anyone is necessarily saying this is the best city in the US or even close. Having moved from out of town here almost 10 years ago, I think you have to remember that many people who have never been to Columbus think this is some small sleepy town in Ohio on the same level as Dayton.

      But good question… I’ve lived in several metros and several smaller cities. Columbus is the only one I’ve gushed about. Smaller cities often struggle with diversity and sometimes become cliquey because everyone knows each other. Not to mention openness to people of all cultures or lifestyle choices. The metros have a lot cooler things to do, but I just feel more connected to multiple neighborhoods in ways I never felt with other cities. I love walking into a bar and seeing people I know. It’s not for everybody, but I personally love it.

      • Agreed. The media outlets need to do some research when they write articles. Better be careful what you say about Dayton because there will be some upset Daytonites, now! :-)

    • I’ve lived in some other places (though most of my life in Central Ohio) and I’ve visited quite a few other cities large and small, foreign and domestic.

      Is Columbus the best city in the world? No. Does it have shortcomings? Yes. Arguably, no city is 100% perfect for everyone.

      I think what people like about Columbus (myself included) is that it’s a city with an upward trajectory and a city where you can have an impact if you really want to. There’s many easy entry points into various areas of interest, and while nothing is without its challenges, the amount of camaraderie and encouragement that can be found here is above and beyond what you’re likely to find with larger cities that have a more entrenched or competitive “scene” regarding whatever you might be into.

      But back to the topic at hand… is Columbus the best city in the US to host a national political convention in 2016? Absolutely. It’s the center of the swing state for presidential elections. The support networks for an event of that magnitude is here, and any shortcomings in logistics can be creatively solved in the next two years.

      Do it, DNC. Don’t make the same mistake the RNC already did by passing it up.

      • Good points, and well put. The DNC in CMH!

      • 8jeremyck01

        Uh, the RNC didn’t make a mistake. They chose Cleveland. That was the best choice to make. Columbus is the best choice for the DNC. Don’t pull that petty “our Ohio city is better than your Ohio city” stuff. I’ve stated before that all Ohio cities should be working together and proud of each other’s accomplishments. Even if Cleveland is the only city to get a convention, it’s still a great accomplishment for Ohio.

    • DouginCMH

      I’ll just chime in and mostly echo what others have said.

      I don’t really think that many people in here claim Columbus is a ‘great’ city, except in a casual, lose-worded sort of way. The way you might respond to the ubiquitous question: How you doing? With the response: Great. Literally, great? Well, not really, but you know what I mean.

      Like others have said, Walker’s letter is meant to try and address a perception problem that Columbus (and lot of other cities) have. I first drove by Columbus 25 years ago on my way from Wisconsin to grad school in DC. I had no idea Columbus was a real city, with tall buildings and whatnot. It didn’t have a big league pro sports team, was only known widely (at least where I grew up) because of college football, so I just kinda slotted it into the ‘college town’ category. Yeah, it’s the state capital, but so is Madison (where I was moving from), and that isn’t some big metropolis.

      Columbus isn’t great in the way that truly great, ‘world’ cities are. Cities like Paris, or New York or Chicago. We’ll never host a summer Olympics. We’ll probably never be a major tourist destination. But Columbus is a city ascendant. It’s one of the fastest growing large cities in the Midwest, actually one of the fastest in the country. And that growth isn’t just based on slashing our tax rates and putting out an ‘open for business’ sign. It’s a very entrepreneurial city, but also highly creative, community driven, a city that values ‘place’ and has set the bar pretty high for what it wants to achieve. And it should. We might not ever be ‘great’ but I see no reason why Columbus can’t become a city that’s nationally recognized for the quality and vibrancy of life here.

      For the record, Columbus is the only large city I’ve lived in that I truly enjoy and enthusiastically talk up to others. I’m not really a city person, and even here I get annoyed at the loudness of the place, the lack of nature. Thing is, I’m not from here (Ohio) and have no inherent reason to praise this city. Most recently (a decade ago) I lived in the Triangle in NC. An area that showed up on best-of lists all the time, and I had no idea why. Well, I knew why, it was because it was in North Carolina – which for reasons unknown has been unofficially christened the next best place to be by national commentators – has mild winters and good BBQ. Beyond that, I really didn’t understand why it was deemed such a paradise by so many people. To me, it was a nice enough place to live, though it was godawful hot in the the summer (at least four months long). Still, Durham (where I lived) didn’t even have one cafe when I moved there. Raleigh was 20+ miles away on the highway. It was and remains one of the worst sprawl zones in the country. Chapel Hill is cool, but then again so are a lot of other college towns (I’ve lived in a few). It was pretty flat and equidistant from areas of the state with a lot more going on geographically. But it didn’t really have a perception problem. People just assumed it was a cool, hip place to be. Based, presumably, on little or no firsthand knowledge.

      I have lived in a lot of places, traveled widely. But Columbus has so much going for it. I feel excited and fortunate to be living here.

      • Walker’s letter? I didn’t write it.

        • DouginCMH

          Sorry. I saw your name on the photo credit and, well, managed to get confused.

    • chaking

      Growing up in Columbus, I have a special place for it. Walking the sidewalks and alleys of the short north, italian village, victorian village, campus, east campus, clintonville, grandview, downtown, german village, bexley, olde town east, franklington and others has left me with images and memories that’ll never leave me.

      I left Columbus around 21 for Seattle and then recently Phoenix. In my work I’ve traveled much of the US and a bit of Europe. Outside of a few of the best known strips (Vegas, NY, Chicago et al), High Street from Clintonville through German Village stands out as clearly unique, energizing, progressive and adventurous to me. Possibly it’s remnants of the same feelings I got as a teenager when High Street was the place anything could happen, but on my most recent trip back I couldn’t think of any street that you could walk on for miles and see and do so much. I felt energy (yes it was gallery hop and there was a football game that day too) that most cities only dream of. The restaurants, coffee shops, bars, galleries, music venues et al combined to basically form an entertainment corridor that in a lot of cities is more dispersed. Having downtown constantly loom in the distance adds a major urban aura and a sense that the further you go on High, the more awaits.

      I’ve brought a couple girlfriends back with me over the years and they were both in shock at how different the inner core of Columbus was than what they imagined and what you find in suburbia and elsewhere in non-urban Ohio (or most of america really). I’ve heard people on the street profusely praising it and saying its like Portland or other west coast cities (Portland has no high street, although yes its cool). It is in no way an inferior product.

      I’m not saying Columbus or High Street is the best city/street in the world. Great cities and streets can be found everywhere. I am saying that Columbus’ core and High Street in particular are amazing and can easily stand up to or overcome (ahem, Phoenix) most places I’ve been or lived. Really, if you picked up Columbus and laid it down on a coast, people would be raving about it incessantly.

      Yes, Columbus has a lot of work to do, but don’t trivialize what is there already.

      • RellekOTE

        Very wonderfully said… Thanks for sharing!


    Superbly written.

  • dpkb

    This is I sent to the DNC site online survey. Please publish this!

    “I am about to turn 52 yrs old in another month and I have lived in Columbus all of those years. I have literally seen Columbus turn into a major city from the humble and sleepy college town that it was in the 1960s.

    I have had opportunities to leave for different reasons but I stayed because I was excited about the future of Columbus and the Central Ohio region. In 1986 Columbus had a Metro population of 1.2 Million and as of 2014 the Metro Area has grown to 2.2 Million+ in population. In 1990 Columbus officially passed Cleveland to become Ohio’s largest City and according to demographers is now on pace to surpass Cleveland’s MSA (Metro Area) and Central county Population within the next couple of years.

    Also, Census information reveals that the rapidly growing Columbus and Central Ohio region is the sole reason that Ohio has shown positive population growth over the last couple of Census tabulations. Columbus is Basically Ohio’s future and embodies the very spirit of Ohio.

    Urbanaople.com has refered to Columbus as the New Midwestern Star. http://www.urbanophile.com/2009/05/17/columbus-the-new-midwestern-star/

    The key to Columbus’s Growth has been in Diversity including; Ethnic, Cultural and most certainly Economic Diversity. It has always been the collaboration civic, public and private sectors. The diverse economic mosaic that Identifies the region has driven its success regardless of the national economic ebbs and flows.

    This city and region has a simple can do work ethic and the can do means “all of us together”.

    I believe that the DNC would miss out on an incredible opportunity to showcase the very best of the new Middle America and the collaborative spirit that is badly needed in the country in order to get things done.

    Columbus has not needed a renaissance because it has been a continual story of innovative growth and development”

    Please don’t miss out! Bring the DNC to Columbus “The New Midwestern Star.”

  • Galactizac

    New Rule: You don’t get to bash Columbus if you don’t live here. This whole “I moved to whatever city on either coast and things are just better here” attitude falls on deaf ears. You moved, you gave up your right to bitch about things you know nothing about it. That being said, Viva Columbus!

  • 6a

    Like others have said, Walker’s letter is meant to try and address a perception problem that Columbus (and lot of other cities) have.

    Ding ding ding! I guess I can out myself as the author. That was originally a rant in the DNC thread but Walker liked it :)

    As was noted above, if the DNC does real due diligence and eliminates us from the running, that’s fine. But to have the media hand it to Philly before the site visits are even finished, and to give reasons like “WTF is a Columbus” is just hack work.

    But yeah, there is an image problem here. I think we all knew that but here are some examples from a forum about Norfolk, VA:

    I’ve never been to Columbus so I can’t guess the makeup of their city any better than they can do ours, but even though that’s a college town, I do wonder if they have a craft beer fanbase the way Norfolk does, esp. in Ghent.

    The only thing I can guess that would wake Stone go to Columbus over Norfolk is the fact that Ohio State is there so they’d have very easy access to an enormous beer-drinking market, especially during the football season (very few places bring in 100k+ per game) and basketball season. That said, I’m pretty confident Norfolk has the competitive advantage in this case.

    Common threads there…never been, just a college town, is there any reason to go?

    On a note related to the actual article, this is from a forum about Charlotte:

    On the flipside, the DNC did give us some serious rep internationally. I think I have mentioned it before, but it seems like everyone in Dubai knows about Charlotte because of the DNC. They were just amazed that this city hosted the president and others. The comments on Eastern Asia were before that…I haven’t been to Eastern Asia since 2012, so I can’t comment on if the DNC had any affect on our recognition there. But the Arabs give Charlotte some serious cred, which honestly surprised me.

    I just wanted to answer one other point raised in the comments above: Yes I have lived elsewhere, six different states in fact. Some cities we would call peers, others out of our league. But there really is something about this place.

  • In my view, it’s counterproductive to bash national media who don’t give you the press you think you deserve. Columbus is only going to come across as insecure, and make it not worth anyone’s time to report on it.

    I observe a double standard. When a national reporter who has little actual knowledge of Columbus comes into town and writes something positive, such as a typical travel article puff piece, nobody ever questions it. But if that person fails to write something 100% positive, they are hammered. Columbus spends tons of money to convince people to come visit it for a weekend or something, then complain when those people give impressions of the city that are less than 100% glowing by saying “they were only here a weekend, what do they know?”

    What makes all those links you shared to positive news somehow gospel while the other ones you don’t like are wrong?

    Columbus would be better off cultivating positive relationships with national and global reporters, and not trying to counter anything they say you don’t like.

    • I could be wrong, but I think the difference here is that we’re not talking about travel/fluff pieces. We’re talking about political reporting. And political reporters (who I assume we’re supposed to be taking seriously as journalists) are taking the lazy/sloppy way out by pleading ignorance.

      • 6a

        Exactly. At the risk of sounding flippant, the point of the article wasn’t to complain about being left off the list of 101 best places to get caramel corn. We are talking about the Super Bowl of politics and there are only five cities in contention. One of those is being shown no respect whatsoever by the media. Not Buzzfeed media, real actual news. That lack of respect at least appears to be based on a lack of knowledge about the city. In my mind, that’s poor journalism.

  • rc0564a
  • rc0564a
  • I can’t add much, but I will say that if you are from Columbus, and you don’t travel much, then perhaps you take what we have here for granted. Other cities do not have vibrant arts districts interwoven with a restaurant row. Or a top notch zoo. Or FREE public transportation in a downtown and environs loop. Or one of the busiest libraries in the country.
    I have been actively involved in the Short North since 1980. It is not what it once was, and that is because of the landlords, the small business owners and, most of all, because of the CITY! They supported us and our vision and still do.
    Columbus is a city where stuff happens. We have gone from a city of “how do we do what they did?” to other cities coming to us and saying “how can we do what you did?” And it is heartening. Even if the DNC does not choose us, we still have the knowledge that we are a first class city. And all of this without big water and tall hills.

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